April / May 2018 - Vol. 97
fallen celtic cross ina

The Bloody Shamrock

by Sean O'Neill

Sean O'Neill is a prolific writer and poet who has recently published his 8th book of poems, entitled Leap Pretty Target. His poetry evokes some of the post modern musings of T.S. Eliot and the beautiful cadence of Gerard Manley Hopkins's spiritually charged verse. The following poem, The Bloody Shamrock, based on Ireland's landscape, history, folklore, and spiritual heritage, is featured in Sean's 7th book of verse entitled An Act of Courage. - ed.

The pound of the shamrock underfoot,
ground out like a lesser weed, spotted,
dashed, filtered through the winsome air,
fixes in the mind’s wash the eddy and smell
of dew on the hook of the bramble thorn,
the taste of the sweet lilac blooming
from sudden cradle to grave in a blink,
the shimmer of tooled Celtic brass
enameled with the souls of the virtuous
running through the stubble like fire,
the melancholy song of the north wind
coming off the moors where sodden turf
sinks under the centuries of chiming life,
memory’s longitude rack-and-pinioned up
into the consciousness of ancient gods
among foothills and the native hinterland,
aboriginal meadows doused in the treacle
of preserved peat-bog bogies ringing softly
through the gaunt air like bloodless bells,
dark waters of heritage frothed with white,
like grave-lime eating at the face of time
to say: this is your father, this is your mother
working the tilled land till the potato shoots
burst the bonds of topsoil into the green
of living table fodder and plump floury nubs,
the butter melting on the grateful tongue.

That same shamrock, worn to ward off evil,
totem of the godhead’s multipersoned love,
crushed under Cromwell’s heathen boot,
rose again to freedom, seizing the tongues
of tilting oppressors and philistine men
to dash their heads against the Blarney Stone,
it’s green a staunch rebuttal to the notion
that singing is the weakling’s industry,
poetry the truck of idle, low, bucolic minds,
discourse only for the politics of wrath,
and music the bread and circuses of fools.  

In dreams they haunt me, those raucous men,
whose short lives were spent for a patch of green,
for a hank of doom laid down in rows
where the sower’s seed fell on stony ground.  

Where is the tincture, the touch of my native land?
Gone where the rudder of jealousy jerked it sudden
into the perilous currents of an angry sea,
to where the sour decay of hope festers still
and where the breezy language of freedom
sank and died in its sleep from too much porter.  

But the language of Eden can still be heard,
mumbling in a fever of love and dreaming,
a consumptive patient battening on hope,
staggered on the precipice of darkness,
the honest sweat of tussle and
scrap standing out on the fevered brow,
till the day when the long sickness breaks
and the patient stands on tottering legs
to deal his wisdom to a thirsty world
and say: in weakness strength lies
and in sorrow joy. 
The trefoil shamrock breaks in a breath of wind,
but nothing steals its green away.

> See other poems in Living Bulwark by Sean O'Neill

photo credit above of a fallen cemetery cross in Ireland (c) by DejaVuDesign at bigstock.com
Act of Courage book cover
An Act of Courage is Sean O’Neill’s seventh collection of poetry. The poems explore courage in the face of weariness; of loss of domestic and spiritual illusions; of the frightening approach of personal intimacy; above all, in the face of the transience of life and the prospect of a final reckoning.

These poems are, by turns, haunting, consoling, bracing and surprising.

 Book available at Amazon.
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